Ian Borley heads up KPMG’s Leicester and Nottingham offices as East Midlands Senior Partner and he’s also head of the firm’s Enterprise practice in the Midlands. By day, he’s an audit partner and leads several of KPMG’s client relationships with a wide variety of companies across the region. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1989, having joined from Leicester Polytechnic – now De Montfort University, and he has worked in the Midlands for most of his career.
KPMG has a worldwide presence as one of the Big Four professional services firms, and its network of member firms provide Audit, Tax and Advisory services. In the UK, the firm has over 600 partners and over 13,000 outstanding professionals who work together to deliver value to clients across its 22 offices.
As a professional whose extensive experience covers a number of sectors – from accounting advisory and risk consulting, to tax planning and transfer pricing – how has the financial services industry evolved in the past two decades?
The two big changes over the last twenty years have been technology and regulation. Technology continues to change the way our industry works, and this is certainly a positive. The use of data analytics, for example, makes professional services more efficient because it’s now much easier to make sense of huge amounts of client data and we can even test the whole population, rather than just samples. IT also means that we can quickly get to the relevant reference material online. Developments like these enable us to be more forward-looking for our clients, and gone are the days of using pencils, calculators and huge sheets of paper to do forecasts, or looking up tax legislation in weighty tomes.
The second major change is regulation, particularly for accountancy and audit. Compared to how it was over a decade ago, the way financial services are regulated and supervised has been completely reformed. In many ways, this is in response to some of the high profile business failures of the past and, as a result, there are numerous restrictions now in place. Although this can be frustrating sometimes, it’s definitely a good thing for our clients, their shareholders and for confidence in capital markets generally.
What are the biggest challenges that UK businesses are facing in 2017? In your opinion, what lies on the horizon for them in the near future?
While most people are probably bored of talking about Brexit, I don’t think the Sterling devaluation that resulted from the UK’s vote to leave the EU has fully come through yet. A lot of manufacturing businesses, for instance, will have had stock in warehouses or in transit that they bought at higher exchange rates earlier in 2016. They may also have hedged, but not many will have hedged into 2017. As a result, raw material inflation is starting to come through, and this will probably ring true for other industries too, so a lot will depend on companies’ ability to pass rising costs onto customers. On top of that, many businesses are wrestling with labour inflation, and things like the Apprenticeship Levy, National Living Wage and Stakeholder Pensions will all start to hit around the same time. The cumulative effect of so much happening in a short space of time could be quite severe for companies that have a big workforce.
Above all, the biggest challenge for many businesses is unpredictability. As well as Brexit, our clients are trying to predict what will happen to oil prices, trade relations with the US in a post-Trump era, and continuing political turmoil in parts of the Middle East. Nevertheless, many management teams are still investing in capital expenditure and making senior recruitment decisions, and we’re seeing that the M&A market is still very busy. This is, in part, a response to the continued resilience of the UK economy and is also encouraged by the availability of relatively cheap finance. However, it may also be that people have stopped trying to predict the unpredictable.
Why do companies need to keep pace with technology? How would you say technological change is playing its part in driving change in the services KPMG offers?
In virtually all of our clients’ sectors, there’s some disruptor or new technology that stirs up the mix in terms of production techniques, routes to market, supply chain or customer experience. As a result, traditional business models are being challenged and people are increasingly looking all over the World to find ways to do business more efficiently.
The tailored customer experience piece is also having a massive impact, not just on consumers but for B2B businesses as well, so being able to stay ahead of the curve is really important. Indeed, this impacts on our own sector and we are continually re-evaluating what we do at KPMG, and how we do it.
You joined KPMG over 30 years ago – what were your goals in driving change within the company?
Having been a partner for 20 of those 30 years, my goals were, and still are, to offer the best possible service to our clients. To do this we need to be a firm of talented, knowledgeable and trusted advisors, and a lot of my career has been about building and developing teams with these attributes. It’s also about keeping up with the fast moving world and how we adapt to meet different client demands, while providing services in an efficient way.
The work environment has changed massively since I first started working at the firm. It was a completely different world back then. Flexible working and the benefits our people have is really important, and we’ve come a long way with diversity and inclusion, but I don’t think any organisation has completely cracked it yet. It’s not for want of trying but it certainly looks a lot better than it did in 1985.
What has the impact of your role been as a head of KPMG’s East Midlands practice to date?
When I took over as Senior Partner for the East Midlands, we were in a position where many of the older and more experienced partners were either at or near retirement. So we had to bring new partners and directors through, and I’m delighted that most of them are home-grown. I’m pleased that we’ve invested in the team and looked after our clients, and we’re still on that journey as I’d like to build the capability of the team even more.
What goals are you currently working towards at KPMG in the East Midlands?
We have a strong market share in the region but there are hundreds of businesses that we don’t work with in the East Midlands that we could really add value to. So it’s all about being proactive and sharing ideas with them about how we can help them, and this comes back to investing and growing the team, while we develop relationships with prospective clients.
Can you tell us about your involvement in the business community?
One of the great things about KPMG is that the firm is very supportive of people giving back to the community, which is one of our core values. Over the last few years, I’ve held non-executive director positions at the National Space Centre and King Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester, and the National Forest. For a number of years, I was chairman of Leicestershire Voice and I also sit on the CBI’s East Midlands Regional Council. I really enjoy being able to contribute something to the wider business community through these forums but it’s also been a fantastic experience for me personally, enabling me to meet some very talented people and learn new things along the way.
What is the role and importance of the SME business community in the UK?
SMEs are the cornerstone of the UK economy, and you only need to look at the statistics* to see why. There were 5.4 million SMEs in the UK in 2016, employing over 16.5 million people, accounting for 47% of the £3.8 billion turnover from private sector UK businesses.
They’re particularly good at being able to respond quickly to changes in the market and their decision-making lines are generally short. While SME businesses are almost always very impressive at what they do, they also have their own challenges. Take management bandwidth as an example; smaller teams can really be stretched when unusual situations occur, such as an acquisition or entry into a new market – they need to respond but they may not always have enough people on board, or people with the relevant experience and skills. That’s why it’s so important at times like these to have a good professional advisor on hand to help.
In the past, SMEs have also faced challenges with access to finance and they’re no stranger to the skills shortage. In comparison to their larger business neighbours, who perhaps have the back office capacity to recruit and train new talent, SMEs don’t often have the time to do so. Despite this, the SME community continues to thrive and is crucial to the success of our economy.
* Business population estimates for the UK and regions 2016 from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy